Friday, January 27, 2006

Robotics, Sessions 8, 9, 10... and 10 1/2

Tomorrow is the robotics tournament.

I haven't posted much about the last few sessions because they were fairly uneventful. The kids have been working away at programming, building, researching. It hasn't moved as fast as I'd like - I have to keep reminding myself that they're just kids, and it's our first time, and if they're having fun and getting better a little at a time, that's all I really want. We had some trouble with the IR tower-RCX communication again, but a few days later, when I sat down with it in my classroom prepared to spend hours troubleshooting, it worked first try and has been working ever since. So... I don't really know what happened, but the problem seems to have solved itself.

One thing that is nice is that the group has chilled out a little. They have a sense of purpose, if not exactly urgency, and they willingly divide up into work-groups with little guidance from me. Some groups get more done than others, some are really on-task while others are easily distracted, but they aren't horsing around driving each other or me crazy. I can see that a few more months of this could galvanize a strong team with a good rhythm to their work, and most of them will be back next year.

The kids are really excited about the tournament. In fact, six or seven stayed after school today for an hour to pull things together. We have a more-or-less working program on the RCX, a finished PowerPoint presentation on oil spills (it's finished, but has never been rehearsed - naturally, this doesn't alarm the kids one bit), and a robot with pretty cool gears and a touch sensor that we don't actually use. I had a couple of kids who were just kicking around during today's session pack up my suitcase with laptops, permission slips, IR towers, extra batteries (30!), and the robot. I gave them a checklist and they did all the packing, really responsibly. The suitcase weighs a TON, and came home with me on public transit...

I'm looking forward to tomorrow, and perhaps even more to the robotics sessions after tomorrow, when things will chill out and I can give them little challenges and try to make sure everyone is included more equally (under pressure, the kids who learn quickly tend to take over and the others let them).

My parents are also visiting this weekend, their first overnight visit since I moved here (almost 6 years ago). They're coming partly to help out with the tournament, partly to meet the kids, partly to do the NYC theater-food-museums thing.


If the government is serious about getting more kids to pursue science, math, & tech careers, they need to start a lot younger than college. Younger than high school, even. In elementary and middle school, most kids like science, if they're allowed to ask all their questions, look at pictures and videos, visit labs and forests and ponds and other field sites, and play with interesting things like bubbles, lenses, pulleys, telescopes, toy cars, and, yes, Legos. That's when you can draw them in, open their minds to the idea that science is interesting and not too hard, start habits of asking questions and seeking answers that will eventually lead them to ask the kinds of questions that might lead them to a book or a class or a lab... Imagine how many kids who would dismiss out of hand the notion of becoming an engineer would find themselves fascinated if given a bunch of Legos, a laptop, and a challenge...

One of the seventh grade girls who makes me absolutely crazy pretty much every day in class wandered into the room today as my kids were troubleshooting their robot.

What are you doing?

We're building robots.

You made robots? And you actually made them go? You made them move? You mean, you really made a robot move? And YOU made it go?

Here, watch.

Whoa! Ms. Frizzle, are you going to do this next year? Can I do it next year? You're going to do it again next year, right?


Anonymous the reflective teacher said...

My district is pushing for four full years of math and science (in high school) as well as a full year of social studies (in middle school).

They'll both likely happen, and I believe both are absolutely necessary, but I have a feeling the district will not push for anything as cool as your robotics program.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Tom Hoffman said...

My father was teaching 8th grade math in our small town in 1973 or so when the built a new middle school to replace the old Jr. high. This was still the tail end of the post-Sputnik math and science push. The amount of funding they had for professional development & resources (in a not-terribly-prosperous small town in central Pa.) was just off the charts compared to what we have now, especially when it came time to build a new building. They had that once in a lifetime great principal at that time as well, so they were all set up with a whole classroom in the new building exclusively for a hands on math lab with programmable calculators, some kind of weird rear-projection display that must have been the 70's equivalent of a smart board and piles of manipulatives. Next thing you know, the principal runs off with his assisstant a few months before the new school opens, the math lab becomes a regular classroom, its contents scattered, and it is all down hill from there.

Just a random anecdote, but it is no mystery what we need to do to get back to where we were.

9:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for changing your format - I find your blog way easier to read now. And thank you for being one of the most reliable bloggers out there (and one of the most interesting and well written...)

9:11 AM  
Blogger Patti said...

The government wants kids to learn science? Not at the elementary level! We are a reading first school, all we have time to do is teach kids how to read real fast.

8:18 PM  
Anonymous guile said...

i wish we had robotics programs in school..

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